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SoCal authorities weigh impact as feds tie crime reduction grants to immigration enforcement

LAPD officers respond to a shooting at the Gas Co. Lofts in downtown Los Angeles on October 22, 2016
Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC
FILE: LAPD officers respond to a shooting in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2016. The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced it wants to tie certain law enforcement grants to immigration enforcement. The grant money helps local law enforcement agencies pay for programs like gang reduction and anti-drug efforts.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced conditions it will apply to certain law enforcement grants, tying the funding to immigration enforcement and prompting local officials to weigh how their budgets might be affected.

The new conditions apply to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which provides millions annually to states and local jurisdictions for law enforcement programs.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized "so-called 'sanctuary' policies" that he said "make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes."

Sessions went on to outline the new conditions for the Byrne grants in a statement.

Local law enforcement officials on Wednesday considered the directive's impact on programs and funding.

"We are sort of sifting through the directive and we are looking at everything in our purview to see if this affects us, and how this is going to affect us," said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein.

The city last year received close to $2 million through the grant program that went primarily toward gang reduction efforts.

Rubenstein said the department believes it is in compliance with the new conditions, but the federal government could have a different opinion.

Los Angeles has not declared itself a sanctuary city, as some jurisdictions like Santa Ana have done. But Los Angeles police employ what's known as Special Order No. 40, a decades-old policy that bars officers from initiating contact with individuals to ask about their immigration status.

Also, Rubenstein said the department does not hold immigrants in custody at the request of immigration agents once they are eligible for release.

"We believe in constitutional policing. We don't hold anybody longer than a judge has deemed," he said. He referred to a 2014 ruling by a federal judge in Oregon who concluded that a plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated when she was held at the request of immigration agents. 

The Byrne grant funds make up just a tiny fraction of the LAPD's budget, which Rubenstein said stands at about $1.6 billion this year. However, "at a time when resources are scarce, every little bit is important," he said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials were not immediately available for comment. But according to a document provided by the county, the sheriff's department received about $1.2 million last year through the Byrne grant program for anti-drug enforcement and prevention.

In Orange County, officials said they're not worried about losing their grant money. Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Lane Lagaret said in an email that the county complies with the conditions already.

"We don’t see any reason why our share of the grant would be taken, as we comply with federal law," Lagaret said.

He said the county has participated in the Byrne grant program for years, but did not say how much the county receives.

In April, a judge blocked President Trump's executive order aimed at withholding funding from sanctuary cities. According to the Associated Press, the judge ruled that the president cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.

The Justice Department maintains it can still condition the grants on cooperation from local authorities on immigration enforcement. But local governments could challenge the latest restrictions.